By the end of 1985, Nicky English must have wondered where exactly his career was headed. He had completed his fourth season on the Tipperary team, during which he picked up three successive All Star awards at right half-forward in 1983-84-85, but what about team honours?
Being consistently recognised as a star act in a mid-ranking team was rewarding, but still fell a long way short of his ambitious targets.
Tipperary were still in their ‘famine years’ and didn’t re-emerge until 1987 when they won the Munster title for the first time since 1971.
Suddenly, the vista changed and a new, glorious era was underway. By the time English signed off in 1996, he was the holder of two All-Ireland and five Munster medals, six All Stars and a Hurler of the Year award (1989). His contribution to the Premier County during the good and bad years earn him the No 1 spot for 1970-2020.
The pursuing pack are close and plentiful. Eoin Kelly matched English with six All Stars while the first case for the defence is convincingly made by Pádraic Maher, whose consistency since making his championship debut in 2008 has been remarkable.
Brendan Cummins has cemented his place as one of the best-ever goalkeepers while the battle for fifth place is a blanket-finish between several contenders.
Brendan Maher and Séamus Callanan, both of whom are in the top ten, still have some years left in them to surge even higher up the rankings.
It’s unfortunate for ‘Babs’ Keating that the time span for this exercise starts in 1970. If it included the 1960s, he would be in the top five but his Tipp career ended in 1975, by which stage the barren years had set in.
They lasted for 16 years and ended under his leadership as his dynamic approach to management launched a new and exciting era for Tipperary.
1. Nicky English, 2. Eoin Kelly, 3. Pádraic Maher, 4. Brendan Cummins, 5. John Leahy, 6. Declan Ryan, 7. Brendan Maher, 8. Tadhg O’Connor, 9. Pat Fox, 10. Séamus Callanan, 11. Tommy Dunne, 12. Michael Cleary, 13. Bobby Ryan, 14. Noel McGrath, 15. Lar Corbett, 16. Francis Loughnane, 17. Michael ‘Babs’ Keating, 18. Colm Bonnar, 19. Noel O’Dwyer, 20. Ken Hogan
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